At the beginning of my first appointment in the radiation oncology department I was surprised to be introduced to two physicists who would be working on my case. Somehow it had never occurred to me that there would be anyone besides medical personnel involved in my treatment but on reflection I thought, "Radiation. . . physicists ... duh. "
They explained to me that the bulk of the time I spent in the treatment room would be taken up by them checking and rechecking and sometimes triple-checking the math in order to make sure I got exactly the right dosage for exactly the right amount of time. I assured them that I greatly appreciated their attention to detail and they could check their math as many times as they liked.
I went home that day thinking how exciting it was that math people would choose to study and work with ways radiation in order to help heal specific individuals. I think of physicists as professors and rocket scientist, folks working in laboratories and universities. On my second visit I felt compelled to ask one of them what drew a physicist toward medical uses of radiation.
His story wasn't exactly what I was expecting. I thought I was going to hear why a physicist would leave the lab or university for the field of medical radiation. What I heard instead was a story of vocation discovered.
The physicist's story began shortly after graduating from college when he discovered that his degree in Spanish Literature was not going to help him earn a living. After trying a few other things he began working as an Xray Technician. During the course of his duties he was exposed to the physicists working in radiation oncology. [pun intended] What these men and women were doing really excited him! Here were people who were not doctors and yet who spent every day working to heal people from what is possibly the most frightening diagnosis anyone can be given. He wanted to be part of that. He went back to school (where he discovered he actually does like math) and became one of them, a physicist working in radiation oncology. He said, "It took me a while to get here but now I am doing exactly what I am meant to be doing."
He thanked me for asking and I thanked him back for telling me about his journey. When I showed up for my appointment I absolutely did not expect to hear a story of calling and vocation. What a blessing I received along with the radiation.